Maybe Kellyanne Conway wasn’t paying attention to the Republican primary season and debates. How else to explain her recent lame attempts to minimize Trump’s pledge to deport all 11 million people in the USA illegally, by saying that Trump hasn’t even “mentioned” that pledge since November and in a couple of the debates. As if he only “mentioned” it in the same manner that he would mention any throwaway item on the campaign trail.
In fact, Trump’s deportation pledge was one the four cornerstones of his immigration policy: Build The Wall; Make Mexico Pay For It; Deport Everyone Here Illegally; No Amnesty. These were the equally important swords that Trump used to attack his primary opponents. As none of the slogans consisted of more than five words, they were perfect raw meat to feed Trump’s supporters who had no interest in learning about any policy that couldn’t be completely described within the confines of a fortune cookie.
When he couldn’t get away with just parroting his slogans, he explained his deportation pledge in black and white terms during the February 25 Republican debate:
“We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out. They will come back — some will come back, the best, through a process. They have to come back legally. They have to come back through a process, and it may not be a very quick process, but I think that’s very fair, and very fine.”
So now, surprise surprise, Trump wants to appeal to more voters. He is under the illusion that people who saw him use his immigration policy as his hallmark issue to bludgeon anyone who disagreed with him, will now believe his new explanation (which he will no doubt awkwardly read from a teleprompter). This brings us to tomorrow’s Big Speech. How can Trump weaken his un-empathetic, black and white, fairy tale of an immigration policy without alienating his supporters who signed up for just such a policy?
My prediction. He will barely mention the deportation policy, and when he does, he will not describe what he says as a change. Instead, he will fill the air with everything that he believes relates to immigration, including the other three core components of his policy, sanctuary cities, crime by immigrants, jobs taken by immigrants, voting fraud by immigrants, the need to speak English, health care provided to immigrants, drivers licenses, etc. etc. But the key to making this work for his existing supporters is that they can’t think he is weakening his position. So what will Trump do? In his speech, he’ll tell them over and over again how strong his policies are, so that after the speech, the takeaway by his supporters will be that Trump just gave a really strong speech on immigration! Even if he doesn’t deport everyone, he’ll still be really strong, and a lot stronger than anyone else.
If I’m right, the key to look for in the speech is how many times Trump says the word “strong” (or its derivatives, like stronger, strongest and strength). It’s difficult to decide how to bet on the over/under for how many times he uses those words, especially because we don’t even know how long the speech will be. My guess is more than eight times. You can make your own prediction. But one thing should be clear. The more he uses those words, the more concern he has about how much he has weakened one of his core policies. And once again, for the man who supposedly tells it like it is, it depends on what the definition of “is” is.